Singaporean wins prestigious Gustav Mahler conducting competition

SINGAPORE - Singaporean conductor Wong Kah Chun beat 13 competitors from around the world to win the first prize at the prestigious Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition held in Bamberg, Germany on Thursday (May 12).

The 29-year-old took the top prize of €20,000 (S$31,096) after several rounds of competing in the fifth edition of the event, which seeks out the best young conductor. Winners typically go on to have engagements with other orchestras as part of their prize.

The competition began on May 6, and Wong was the only remaining Asian conductor from the semi-finals onwards, going up against the likes of conductors from Russia, Ukraine and Romania.

Speaking to The Straits Times via e-mail from Bamberg, he says: "I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities from Singapore, all of which have been instrumental to my experience in the competition. I would like to thank my family for their support, and of course my teachers, as well as my alma mater - Yong Siew Toh Conservatory."

He also says that after the results were announced, offers for projects and management came all at once.

While he admits that conducting the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra for the first time was "nerve racking", he says they are a "very special orchestra, truly interested in music and supporting young conductors".

"Every round got easier as we got to know each other better through the music we played," he adds.

The first of his post-win commitments involves a concert with the Bamberg Symphony on Friday evening (German time) that will also be broadcast by Bavarian Radio.

However he does not have time to celebrate the win until July, with other commitments including conducting at the opening gala concert of the Musical Olympus Festival in St Petersburg, Singapore Lyric Opera's Opera in the Park, as well as a fellowship with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Wong is one of Singapore's most prolific conductors, having led orchestras in more than 20 cities in four continents. Having debuted with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in March last year, he has since performed with the Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra, the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra among others.

This article was first published on May 13, 2016.
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